An unknown US ally recently destroyed a $200 drone with a Patriot PAC-3 missile, according to Gen. David Perkins.
In remarks made to AUSA 2017, a defense conference held in Huntsville, Alabama this week, Perkins did not identify the country which had fired the missile. But he cited the anecdote as an example of wasteful warfighting.
"I'm not sure that's a good economic exchange ratio," he said in an appearance now available on YouTube.
On the kinetic exchange ratio, the patriot won, okay? That quadcopter, that cost 200 bucks from Amazon.com, did not stand a chance against a Patriot. So on the kinetic exchange ratio, they won. On the economic exchange ratio - I'm not sure that's a good economic exchange ratio, in fact if I'm the enemy, I'm thinking hey, I'm just gonna get on eBay and buy as many of these $300 quadcopters as I can, and expend all the Patriot missiles out there.
According to Aeroweb, Patriot missiles cost $3.43 million each in 2012, the last year in which the US Army purchased them. Including the price of the launcher and the operating costs of a Patriot battery in the field, each missile likely represents a $4 million defense expenditure by whatever country did this.
BBC News notes that prime suspects Israel and Saudi Arabia are among the 12 nations that have become Patriot customers since they appeared to shoot down Iraqi Scud missiles in 1991.
"It is clearly enormous overkill," said Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute.
"It certainly exposes in very stark terms the challenge which militaries face in attempting to deal with the adaptation of cheap and readily available civilian technology with extremely expensive, high-end hardware designed for state-on-state warfare."
Mr Bronk also told the BBC that Patriot radar systems, while sophisticated, might struggle to target a small quadcopter effectively.
It is instructive that the Patriots of 1991 failed to score a single confirmed kill, leading to criticism of both the system and antimissile technology more generally. But the technology has improved, and meanwhile the ‘missile threat' has not abated, especially for the Israelis. Inexpensive remote flight technology just adds another level of threat.
Soldiers have joked for a generation that you can kill a $4 million tank with a $200 rocket. It seems the ratio is the same in the sky.
Featured image: public domain